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Inclusion – Political Voices
This month, Ángela Covadonga Bachiller took up her new post as a town councillor in the Spanish city of Valladolid. She states in a press release that she wants to be ‘an honest politician’ and work for the people. Angela has been employed in the department of Social Welfare as an administrative assistant for the last two and a half years.
Angela has Downs Syndrome.
Angela has been fortunate enough to retain her right to vote in Spain where many people with learning disabilities are denied it, due to a rule that can declare them ‘incapacitated’ by judges. In the UK, a campaign by Mencap and work by other organisations increased the number of people with learning disabilities who voted to 1 in 3 in 2010.
I met a young man who changed my view of people with learning disabilities having a role in politics around three years ago, when he addressed a conference in Leeds. Scott Watkin was then Co-National Director for Learning Disabilities at the Department of Health and his address was powerful and engaging. He spoke about his own situation and used humour to illustrate the work he did in representing people with learning disabilities and vision problems. Scott had support and assistance from advisers to produce his speeches, but at no time did his contribution seem tokenistic and he left a powerful impression on the delegates.
How are you enabling your service users to have a voice, not only in the issues that concern their personal lives, but in the wider issues of welfare reform, employment rights and financial independence? Most providers are working to meet CQC requirements around service user involvement, using forums and user groups to include them in decisions about their care.
Consider the people who use your service. What opportunities do they have to comment on their experiences and lives? Are you using advocacy services that are independent of your establishment? OK, maybe not. Maybe you support people who do not have the level of understanding that would enable them to engage in political activity.
I recommend you look at the British Institute of Learning Disability ’s ‘Involve Me’ project, which sets out to give practical advice and help on how to enable people with profound and multiple learning disabilities to have a voice and rights to choose. A DVD is available with some real and valuable ideas, which may give you some options to try with the people you know. You may not be looking at the next Scott Watkin, but you will never know the potential unless you offer people a chance.
Virginia Tyler, RNLD DipNHM MSc – QCS Expert Contributor on Learning Disabilities